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Classic Cinema at Bologna, Perils of a Paulette, from 'Guilt Trip' to 'Vera Cruz'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood June 29, 2013 at 10:21PM

It's time to head to the Pizza Maggiore to join more than a thousand people for a free outdoor screening of "Vera Cruz," the stunning Technicolor western directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Burt Lancaster, whose daughter Joanna charmingly introduces the film by narrating a slideshow of photographs of her exceedingly photogenic father. Il Cinema Ritrovato's artistic director, Peter von Bagh, compares the prescient and influential 1954 film to its successors, the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the brutal ones of Sam Peckinpah.
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'Vera Cruz'
'Vera Cruz'

As the waiting room for the flight to Bologna fills up, I spy Bruce Goldstein of New York's great repertory house, Film Forum, in a Janus Films t-shirt.  When we emplane, I am seated next to Karen Stetler, the Criterion Collection producer, who's presenting a new 4K restoration of "Richard III" in Bologna along with Peter Becker of Criterion and Grover Crisp, Senior Vice President, Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering, Sony Pictures (whew). We share a cab into Bologna and our three assorted hotels.

After trying to sort out various hotel and ATM snafus, it's time to head to the Pizza Maggiore, just half-a-block away, to join more than a thousand people for a free outdoor screening of "Vera Cruz," the stunning Technicolor western directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Burt Lancaster, whose daughter Joanna charmingly introduces the film by narrating a slideshow of photographs of her exceedingly photogenic father. Il Cinema Ritrovato's artistic director, Peter von Bagh, compares the prescient and influential 1954 film to its successors, the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the brutal ones of Sam Peckinpah.

I can't count how many times I've seen the film, but this time I'm even more taken with the ivory slot of Lancaster's knowingly deployed smile and the lean elegance of Gary Cooper. (It's amazing how generous Lancaster is with his costars, considering he's one of the producers of the movie.)  I'm also reminded of the wealth of character actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood: Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky), George Macready, Cesar Romero, and a host of others contribute, and there's so much depth in the field that Lancaster feels free to gun down a couple of familiar faces within minutes of their showing up.

It's a terrific movie. I'm happily reminded of the time in the seventies when I accidentally got to see Lancaster practicing quick-draws in the driveway of a Malibu beach house wearing only a red speedo and a leather holster -- the stuff that dreams are made of.  But that's another story...And the time that Pauline Kael and I discussed Lancaster's supreme sexual assurance...And the time that my mother seemed uneasy that the bearded guy in the next booth at Musso and Franks was giving her the eye. I craned my neck around, turned back, and said "That's OK, Mom. It's Burt Lancaster."  

I return to my cell revived. 

This article is related to: Burt Lancaster


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.